Africanized Bee - Stephen Buchmann
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caterpillars may provide you with many virgin females and the means to conduct an interest-ing census of male moths in your area. Place female moths (usually distinguishable from males of the same species by having narrower, less comb-like antennae and larger, swollen ab-domens) into small mesh or wire cages; posi-tion the cages along a trail, near a forest clear-ing, or on your porch; then observe. If males of this species are about, they should find their way to the cages in short order. When do they arrive? How abundant are they in suburban areas, as compared with rural habitats? Do males from more than one species arrive at the cages? If you are interested in moth breeding, this is an excellent way to attract wild mates and begin the life cycle anew.
Stephen L. Buchmann
Families: Andrenidae, Apidae (includes all members of the former family Anthophoridae), Colletidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae, Melittidae, oxaeidae
Common Sonoran Desert genera: Agapostemon, Andrena, Anthidium, Anthophora, Apis, Ashmeadiella, Bombus, Centris, Coelioxys, Colletes, Diadasia, Epeolus, Exomalopsis, Halictus, Heriades, Heteranthidium, Hylaeus, Megachile, Melecta, Melissodes, Nomadopsis, Nomia, Osmia, Panurginus, Peponapis, Perdita, Psithyrus, Sphecodes, Stelis, Svastra, Tetraloniella, Triepeolus, Xenoglossa, Xeromelecta, Xylocopa
Spanish names: abeja (bee), jicote, abejorro (bumble bee, carpenter bee)
Bees make up a highly diverse group in the Sonoran Desert Region. Superficially, bees (especially the parasitic bees known as cuckoo bees) resemble some wasps, except that bees are usually hairier and fatter, and they possess spe-cialized structures for carrying pollen back to their nests. Bees also have branched (plumose) hairs on their bodies, which distinguishes them from wasps, which have unbranched
simple hairs (you need a hand lens to see this). Together with ants, bees and wasps form an evolutionary lineage referred to by taxonomists as the aculeate, or “stinging,” Hymenoptera; the stinger is called an aculeus. Among the aculeate hymenopterans, only females sting. The stinger evolved from the ovipositor, or egg-laying tube. Sonoran Desert bees range in size from the world’s smallest bee, Perdita minima, which is less than 0.08 inches (2 mm) long, to carpenter bees (genus Xylocopa), gentle giants with body lengths of almost 1 ½ inches (40 mm) long that can weigh almost 0.04 ounces (1 g). Our native bees burrow into the ground, cre-ate nests, or use abandoned tunnels inside hol-low, pithy, dried stems or abandoned tunnels left by wood-boring beetles. A few leafcutter bees (a grouping called anthidiines) construct small pebble and resin nests attached to twigs of creosotebushes and other plants. All bees are herbivorous except for parasitic forms that prey on other bees. Herbivorous bees feed on pollen, nectar, and oils offered as floral rewards by flow-ering plants. Bright metallic mason bees find unoccupied beetle burrows in dead trees and bring back mud to form partitioning cell walls between their larvae. Some bees are cleptopara-sites on other bees; cuckoo bees, for instance, sneak into the nests of other bees to lay their eggs when the nesting female is away, similar to a cowbird laying an egg in another bird’s nest and letting the foster mom rear her chick. Most bees have solitary lifestyles in which females act alone to construct and provision nests, but there are also semi-social forms, such as the fa-miliar large black carpenter bees (Xylocopa vari-
Most ofour Sonoran Desert beeshave but one generation per year,withadults usually emerging with the springor summer wildflower blooms.Somespecies,however,have 2 or even 3 generations per year.In a typical lifehistory,adult males and females matesoon after emergence from their natalcells.Females construct and provisionnests and lay eggs,and the larvae develop rapidly under-ground.During coolermonths the larvae usuallystay in a restingcondition,or dia-pause,at either theprepupalor the pharate adultstage (the pupal stage justprior to the final molt tothe adult proper) untilthe following springor summer whenthey complete their metamorphosesand emerge as adults.
A relatively small number ofour desertbees are truly social.Bee sociality indi-cates that these species’evolutionarypaths have diverged from those oftheirsolitary ancestors.In the case ofsomesweat bees (the family Halictidae),a queen looks like other females in thecolony,though she differs in havinghighly developed ovaries.She may ormay not secrete pheromones that elicitfeeding and grooming behavior in herdaughters.The queen lays all the eggswithin the colony.Sweat bee coloniesare usually small,consisting ofa fewdozen or at most a few hundred individuals.
Highly social bees in our regioninclude the introduced honey bee andthe native black and yellow bumblebeesin the genus Bombus.Bumblebeecolonies are annual in nature,estab-lished by an already-inseminated queenwho emerges from her winter retreat inspring and finds a suitable mouse nestor other underground cavity in whichto nest.The queen is larger than herdaughters,and lays all the eggs aftershe has produced,initially,a small
brood ofworkers.Males andqueens are produced late in
the season and in thecolony cycle.They mate,the males die,and the
inseminated queens spendthe fall and winter “hiber-
nating”below ground until thenext spring.
Farther south in Sonora,Mexico (near Alamos),extremelysocial bees live in colonies with manythousands ofindividuals—the so-called “stingless bees,”in the generaMeliponaand Trigona.These queens arephysogastric,with abdomens swollenfullofeggs.They are not able to fly oncethey begin laying eggs,and never leavethe colony again.Thus,these socialbees represent a still greater caste differentiation between queens andworkers.Stingless bees store as muchas several quarts (liters) ofhoney inwaxen storage pots that look like clusters ofgrapes.Indigenous peopleswho find these nests within hollowtrees sometimes transport the hivesback to their villages,where they tendthe bees and routinely harvest theirhoney and beeswax.
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puncta) and the truly social, bright yellow and black Sonoran bumble bees (Bombus pennsylva-nicus) of lower desert elevations.
distriButiOnThere are at least 45 genera in 7 families, and likely 700 to 800 species of bees, distributed within the Sonoran Desert Region. We do not know the exact number because many bee gen-era are in need of taxonomic revision, numer-ous new species are being described, and bee surveys in many counties and for Sonora, Mex-ico, are incomplete. The region around Tucson, Arizona, is thought to host more kinds of bees than anywhere else in the world, with the pos-sible exception of some deserts in Israel. The state of Arizona has 1300 native bee species. In the United States, there are about 3500 species of bees. On a global scale, there are approxi-mately 20,000 named species, but it is likely
that another 5,000 or more or so still remain undescribed and unnamed by taxonomists.
eCOlOgyBees are a highly successful group that evolved from wasps; they live in almost all terrestrial habitats within our region. Except for the parasitic cuckoo bees (including Ericrocis, Xe-romelecta, and Triepeolus spp.), all female bees make their living by foraging in search of pro-tein-rich pollen and sugary nectar from flow-ering plants. By moving pollen from flower to flower and plant to plant, bees perform vital and often underappreciated roles as the most im-portant group of pollinating animals on Earth. Bees are an excellent example of the evolution-ary fine-tuning of insect-plant symbioses: they are not out to “help” flowers; they simply collect pollen and nectar to feed themselves and their larvae and, in the process, facilitate pollination.
the infamous Africanized honey bee (sometimes erroneously called “killer bee”) closely resembles other north American honey bees; even experts have to examine them carefully to tell them apart. Africanized honey bees are about 10 to 15 percent smaller than other subspecies and races of Apis mellifera. they are called “Africanized” because they are the hybrid progeny resulting from the re-lease of pure A. m. scutellata (the African honey bee) into the forests near São Paulo, Brazil, in 1956. they arrived in southern Arizona from Mex-ico in the early 1990s and quickly established feral colonies in rock outcrops, tree hollows, and sa-guaro boots. In cities, Africanized bees preferen-tially nest under sheds and in streetside concrete water-meter boxes.
Africanized or not, a few foraging honey bees are usually no cause for alarm. the only true dan-ger is encountering an Africanized colony and provoking it. Stimuli that alert and engage the defensive guard bees are ground vibration, rapid movement, dark clothing, and the carbon diox-ide in exhaled breath. If a colony is apt to be pro-voked, stay clear of it and contact a beekeeper
or pest control company. often, a guard bee will bounce off your head without stinging. this is a warning that more bees and stings may follow. Do not swat at the bees. Walk calmly out of the area. If you are attacked by numerous Africanized bees and are being stung, pull your shirt or blouse over your face to protect your eyes. Hold your breath if you can and get out of the area. Unfortunately,
Africanized bees may continue to follow and try to sting you for up to ¼ mile (0.4 km). Do not jump into a swimming pool or lake to escape them. Get indoors as quickly as possible; an automobile is a safe retreat. Don’t worry about bringing in a few bees with you; they will soon disperse and fly to-ward a lighted window.
There are at least 45 genera in 7 fami-lies, and perhaps as many as 1000species of bees distributed within theSonoran Desert bioregion. Unlikemost other groups of organisms, beesare most abundant in numbers of bothspecies and individuals in deserts andsavannahs, rather than in lowland rain-forests. The region around Tucson,Arizona is thought to host more kindsof bees than anywhere else in theworld, with the possible exception ofsome deserts in Israel. In the UnitedStates, there are about 5000 species ofbees. On a global scale, there areapproximately 25,000 named species,but it is likely that as many as 40,000different species exist.
Bees, a highly successful group derivedfrom wasps, live in almost all terrestrialhabitats within our region. Except forthe parasitic cuckoo bees, all femalebees make their living by foraging insearch of protein-rich pollen and sug-ary nectar from flowering plants. Bymoving pollen around from flower toflower and plant to plant, bees performvital and often unappreciated roles asthe most important group of pollinat-ing animals on earth. Yet bees are notout to “help” flowers; they collectpollen and nectar in order to feedthemselves and their larvae.
Of the approximately 640 flower-ing plant taxa growing in the TucsonMountains near the Desert Museum,approximately 80 percent of thesespecies have flowers adapted for andpollinated by bees. Similarly, at least 30 percent of our agricultural cropsrequire bees to move pollen between
flowers. Not only are we dependentupon these “forgotten pollinators” forover a third of our food, but for otherproducts as well. Cotton cloth is aproduct that eventually results frombee pollination, and so are many bever-ages and medicines made from otherfruits and seeds.
Without the pollination servicesbees provide, many plants would notproduce seed-laden fruits from whichthe next generation of plants wouldgrow. Without bees, there would befew or no fleshy berries or fruits tosustain birds, mammals, and otherwildlife. The tunneling activity ofbees aerates the soil and allows waterfrom infrequent rains to quickly penetrate and reach plant roots; andbees’ nitrogen-rich feces fertilize thesoil. The bees themselves often provide food for lizards, mammals,birds, insects, spiders, and other arachnids.
Africanized BeesThe infamous
Africanized honeybee closely resemblesother NorthAmerican honeybees—even experts have toexamine them closely to tell themapart. Africanized or not, a fewforaging honey bees are usually no cause foralarm. The only true danger is encountering an Africanized colony. In such cases stay clearof the colony and contact a beekeeper or pestcontrol company.
© Jeff Martin
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Of the approximately 640 flowering plant taxa growing in the Tucson Mountains near the Desert Museum, approximately 80 percent have flowers adapted for bee pollination. Simi-larly, at least 80 percent of agricultural crops, globally, require bees to move pollen between flowers. Many table foods— like those in the broccoli family, as well as carrots, squashes, on-ions, melons, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, avocados, coffee, and many fruits and nuts, to name just a few— are pollinated by bees. But we depend on these “forgotten pol-linators” not only for about a third of our global food crops (many are wind-pollinated), but for other products as well. Cotton cloth is one even-tual product of bee pollination, as are many beverages and medicines made from fruits and seeds.
Without the pollination services bees pro-vide, many plants would not produce seed-bearing fruits from which the next genera-tion of plants would grow. Without bees, there would be few or no fleshy berries or fruits to sustain birds, mammals, and other wildlife. The tunneling activity (bioturbation) of bees helps aerate the soil and allows water to quickly penetrate and reach plant roots. Larval bees’ ni-trogen-rich feces fertilize the soil. The bees are themselves food for lizards, mammals, birds, insects, spiders, and other arachnids.
In their daily foraging, bees harvest food-stuffs from flowers for themselves and their larvae. Pollen is a rich source of amino acids, proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Nectar provides sugars for the energy boost that bees need to fly. Some des-ert bees (such as Centris spp.) have specialized scrapers on their legs for harvesting oils from glands on the undersides of specialized flowers (such as Krameria spp. and Janusia spp.). These energy-rich oils are mixed with pollen as larval food and are also used to help construct brood cells. Other bees collect small pebbles, plant hairs, or floral resins for use as building ma-terials. Some bees, such as mason bees in the genus Osmia, also require water and mud, with which they construct their adobe-like nests.
Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) remove circu-lar pieces of leaves to fashion into cell walls. Resin bees (Heriades and some Megachile spp.) collect resins from creosotebush and brittle-bush to seal their linear nests in former beetle tunnels in dead tree branches.
life histOryAlmost 80 percent of our native Sonoran Desert bees excavate burrows in the ground for their brood cells. Cells can be placed a few inches (5 cm) deep or 6 feet (2 m) or more in sandy soils. Many species line their burrows or cells with waxy secretions produced from the Dufour’s glands within their abdomens. This lining wa-terproofs the cells, maintains humidity, and keeps organisms like fungi from destroying the food and the developing larvae. Most bees are solitary and do not help one another. The life history for social bees, such as bumble bees, is very different.
Each female of the solitary kinds selects a site for her nest, excavates the tunnels, and forms and provisions the rounded cells with pollen and nectar. Usually the pollen balls are shaped by the female, and she lays a small white egg on the provision mass. She can make about one cell every day of her life. Most ground-nest-ing bees seal their brood cells with a spiral mud closure. This behavior is called mass provision-ing, since the mother bee collects and prepares at one time all the pollen and nectar food each developing larva will need to complete its life cycle from larval stages to newly emerged adult. Not all bee larvae spin a silken cocoon, but
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some do. After laying an egg in each cell, the solitary female has no further contact with her progeny. She dies and will never see her brood. Although solitary, many of our Sonoran Desert bees routinely nest with other females in very large aggregated nest sites. Among them is our common cactus bee (Diadasia rinconis), which pollinates prickly pear, cholla, and saguaro cacti. During the spring cactus bloom there may be thousands to hundreds of thousands of aggregated nests over an area the size of a ten-nis court.
Other native desert bees don’t go to the bother of excavating their own nests. Instead, they seek the abandoned exit holes and tun-nels of wood-boring beetles (usually bupres-tids and cerambycids) in dead limbs or stand-ing dead trees. These bees are known by their common names of leafcutter (Chalicodoma and Megachile) and mason bees (Osmia). Once a beetle burrow is located, these females bring back cut pieces of leaves, resins, and pebbles or mud balls with which to fashion cells and their thick, protective capping plugs.
Most of our Sonoran Desert bees have a single generation per year, the adults typically emerging with the spring or summer wild-flower blooms. Some species, however, have two or three generations per year. In a typical life history, adult males and females mate soon after emergence from their brood cells. Females construct and provision nests and lay eggs, and the larvae develop rapidly underground. Dur-ing cooler months the larvae usually stay in a resting condition, or diapause, at either the pre-pupal or the pharate adult stage (the pupal stage just prior to the final molt and emergence as an active adult) until the following spring or sum-mer, when they complete their metamorphoses and emerge as adults.
sOCiAl BehAViOrA relatively small number of our desert bees are truly social. In the case of some sweat bees (Halictidae), a queen looks like other females in the colony, although she differs in having highly developed ovaries. She may or may not secrete
pheromones that elicit feeding and grooming behavior in her daughters. The queen lays all the eggs within the colony. Sweat bee colonies are usually small, consisting of a few dozen or at most a few hundred individuals.
Highly social bees in our region include the introduced European honey bee (Apis mellifera) and the native black and yellow bumble bees in the genus Bombus. Bumble bee colonies are annual, established by an inseminated queen that emerges from her winter retreat in spring and finds a suitable mouse nest or other under-ground cavity in which to nest. The queen is larger than her daughters and lays all the eggs after she has produced an initial small brood of workers. Males and queens are produced late in the season. They mate, the males die, and the inseminated queens spend the fall and win-ter “hibernating” below ground until the next spring.
In Sonora, Mexico (near Alamos), and far-ther south, extremely social bees called “sting-less bees” (Melipona and Trigona spp.) live in colonies with many thousands of individuals. (Although these bees do not sting, they can bite, and will, if their nest is disturbed.) These queens are physogastric, with abdomens swol-len full of eggs. They are not able to fly once they begin laying eggs, and they will never leave the colony again. Thus, these social bees represent a still greater caste differentiation between queens and workers. Stingless bees store as much as several quarts (liters) of honey in waxen storage pots that look like clusters of grapes. Indigenous peoples, including the Ma-yans of the Yucatán Peninsula, find these nests in hollow trees and transport the log hives back to their villages, where they tend the bees and periodically harvest their honey and beeswax.
We can explore bee diversity by examining where bees live and which flowering plants they visit to collect food (pollen and nectar) and nest-ing materials (leaves, resins).
leafcutter and mason bees
Leafcutter bees and mason bees (the common names for many genera of bees in the family
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Megachilidae) make up about 10 percent of our 1300 native Arizona bees species. Both groups of bees typically nest in abandoned tunnels in dead trees and limbs left by emerging beetles, although a few are ground-nesting. Female leaf-cutter bees do not eat, but cut elliptical pieces from thin leaves, including those of rosebushes
and other garden plants. They carry these back to their tunnel nests to serve as a protective lining for their brood cells and help maintain a constant humidity. Chemicals in the leaves help protect the eggs and developing bee larvae from microbial attack. Leafcutter bees are gen-erally all black, often with faint white stripes on their abdomens. Species of the genus Megachile are the most common in our deserts, and they can be found visiting mesquite and palo verde trees. Females in the subgenus Chelostomoides can be recognized by their massive mandibles, with sharp cusps, which they use not only for cutting leaves but also for collecting plant res-ins from brittlebush and creosotebush. The resins are used to top off their nests as a de-terrent for marauding ants. In the Sky Islands, shiny metallic green mason bees (e.g., Osmia ribifloris, which pollinates manzanita flowers) nest in abandoned beetle burrows and, as their name suggests, use mud to construct cell wall partitions. Leafcutter and mason bees gener-ally have one or two generations per year in our area.
Exceeded in size only by queen bumble bees, these large, mostly black bees have massive mandibles and excavate tunnels dime- to nickel-sized in diameter in sound but dead wood. Our most common low-elevation carpen-ter bee, Xylocopa californica arizonensis, nests in one- to two-year-old dead fruiting stalks of agave, sotol, and yucca. Females save some of the excavated sawdust from their linear gal-leries to form concave, spiral, “particleboard” cell partitions between their young. They lay a long egg on a pillow-like provision mass, and the larva consumes the entire mass before fi-nally defecating and becoming a pupa. The pupae wait in their cells until the next spring, although in some cases a generation matures faster and a second generation is produced in the same year. These bees cause little damage to structural timbers (although they will bur-row into large household wood structures). Females have short mouthparts and are often seen slitting the bases of flowers, including those of Chilopsis and Tecoma, to steal nectar without pollinating these flowers. The larger Xylocopa varipuncta nests in dead logs of syca-more and poplar, along with chinaberry trees in urban environments. Its golden males estab-lish leks (communal mating sites) on hilltops. The males produce rose-like scents that attract females for mating.
green mason bee
In their daily quests bees harvestfoodstuffs from flowers for themselvesand their larvae. Pollen is a rich foodsource of amino acids, proteins, fattyacids, vitamins, minerals, and carbohy-drates. Nectar provides the energyboost from sugars that bees need to fly.Some desert bees (Centris) have special-ized scrapers on their legs for harvest-ing oils from glands on the undersidesof specialized flowers in the ratany andmalpighia families. These energy-richoils are are mixed with pollen as larvalfood and are also usedto help construct broodcells. Other bees collectsmall pebbles, plant hairs,or floral resins that theyuse as building materi-als. Some bees, suchas mason bees in thegenus Osmia, alsorequire water and mud with which toconstruct theiradobe-like nests.Leafcutter bees(Megachile) remove circular pieces ofleaves to fashion into cell walls.
The vast majority of desert bees digburrows in the ground for their broodcells. Cells can be just a few inches deepor six feet or more down in sandy soils.Many species line their burrows or cellswith waxy secretions produced byglands within their abdomens. This lining waterproofs the cells, maintainshumidity, and keeps organisms likefungi from destroying the food and thedeveloping larvae. Most bees are solitary,that is each female selects a site for her
nest, excavates the tunnels, forms andprovisions the rounded cells, and laysan egg within each one. This behavioris called “mass provisioning,” since themother bee collects and prepares at onetime all the pollen and nectar foodeach developing larva will need to com-plete its life cycle from larval stages topupa and, finally, through completemetamorphosis into a newly emergedadult. After laying an egg in each cell,the solitary female has no further con-tact with her progeny. Although solitary,
many of our Sonoran Desertbees routinely nest with
other females in very largeaggregated nest sites. Among
them is is our common cactusbee (Diadasia rinconis) which
pollinates prickly pear,cholla, and saguaro
cacti. Its aggregations dur-ing the spring cactus bloommay number in the hun-dreds of thousands ofindividual nests over anarea the size of 2 to 3tennis courts.
Other native desertbees don’t go to the bother of excavat-ing their own nests. Instead, theyactively search out the abandoned exitholes and tunnels of wood-boring beetles (usually buprestids and ceram-bycids) in dead limbs or standing deadtrees. These bees are known by theircommon names of leafcutter (the genera Chalicodoma and Megachile) andmason bees (the genus Osmia). Once abeetle burrow is located, these femalesbring back cut pieces of leaves, resinsand pebbles or mud balls with whichto fashion cells and their thick, protec-tive capping plugs.
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Sweat bees (Halictidae) are some of our small-est bees. These ground-nesting bees are black or bronze in color and visit a wide variety of flowering plants. Halictus and Dialictus are two of our most common genera. Attracted by salts, the tiny Dialictus species often land on the sweaty skin of hikers, drinking their perspi-ration. (If you don’t notice them and flex your arm, you might be stung, but the stings are not very painful.) Bright metallic green bees (Aga-postemon and Augochlorella spp.) are also com-mon desert bees.
Arizona has far fewer native bumble bees than California and states farther north into the Rocky Mountains. Our most common low-elevation bumble bee, Bombus pennsylvanicus (formerly B. sonorus), is a large, brilliant black and yellow bee, with a broad black band across a yellow thorax. It is often seen visiting thistle flowers. Bumble bees are truly social, with a queen and a worker caste. They preferentially nest underground in rodent burrows or mouse nests. In urban areas, they often nest in aban-doned human articles, in upholstery, or under discarded boards or utility sheds. Colonies are found in the spring and are annual, living only until the first frosts of the fall.
Bees known as digger bees are ground nest-ers, or kleptoparasites. Common genera are the fast-flying, robust Anthophora and Centris. Squash and gourd bees (Peponapis and Xeno-glossa spp.) are commonly found nesting in pumpkin and gourd patches, and these bees
are specialist pollinators of these gourd plants (Cucurbitaceae). A large local bee, the gray and black Centris pallida, is a common visitor to palo verde flowers. Other members of the genus Centris are specialists, harvesting floral oils (as brood food) from plants including Kra-meria and Janusia.
Honey Bee or Bumble Bee Stings
If you are stung by a honey bee or bumble bee, remove the stinger immediately (with fingers or teeth, by scraping off with a fingernail, etc.) to prevent more venom from being delivered. (Don’t take time to look for tweezers or other instruments.) Be alert in the first several min-utes to an hour to any unusual symptoms that may represent a life-threatening situation. Dif-ficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, body rash, or intense itching are warning signs of a po-tential systemic allergic reaction in your body that, left untreated, could lead to anaphylactic shock and possible death. If you or someone you are with is stung and shows any of these symptoms, get yourself or them to an emer-gency room and medical treatment immedi-ately (but don’t drive recklessly). With ana-phylactic reactions, prompt action is crucial. If you know you are allergic, you may already be carrying an epipen auto injector (epinephrine) and know how to use it. It should only be used in an emergency based on some or all of the above warning symptoms. the vast majority of people can easily withstand one or a few honey bee or other bee stings and only have minor discomfort. If, for example, you are stung on a finger or hand, you might experience pain for the first few minutes and, over a period of hours to days, intense itching, redness, and swelling (edema). You might even have swell-ing all the way up your arm. While uncomfort-able, this swelling is not a life-threatening con-dition. Most people see their doctor and just take some pain-killer and perhaps Benadryl tablets for the itching. A simple home remedy for immediate sting pain is application of a paste of moistened table salt.
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Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not native to the Sonoran Desert but were purposely introduced into the United States (from Europe) over 400 years ago by the Plymouth colonists. These are truly social bees, with large colonies of up to 50,000 bees, headed by a single queen and with worker and drone castes. Honey bee colo-nies are managed by beekeepers and are our single most important pollinator of agricul-tural crops. In the Sonoran Desert, since about 1990, the Africanized race (hybrids of some subspecies of European honeybees with the African honey bee Apis mellifera scutellata) has established large feral populations within cities and in rocky desert outcrops. Most of the honey bees you see on flowering plants are African-ized honey bees.
Justin O. Schmidt
Families: Pompilidae, Mutillidae, Crabronidae, Sphecidae, Vespidae, Scoliidae
Sonoran Desert genera: Pepsis, Dasymutilla, Sphecius, Sceliphron, Polistes, Triscolia
Spanish name: avispa
Wasps comprise an enormous and diverse as-semblage of insects ranging from the smallest known insects— tiny parasites of insect eggs— to immense cicada killers and tarantula hawks. Most wasps are predators whose young feed on other insects or arthropods, but a few groups have become vegetarians, similar to bees, and collect pollen to feed to their larvae. Both sexes of wasps are typically strong fliers, but some species are flightless; in others, one sex, usually the male, is an excellent flier while the other sex is flightless.
Perhaps the most conspicuous and com-monly seen wasps in the Sonoran Desert are the paper wasps (Polistes spp.). Paper wasps
are large (about 1 in/20– 25 mm) social wasps that build paper honeycomb-style nests. Paper wasps and other wasps in Arizona don’t pro-duce honey, but the honey wasp in Sonora (Brachygastra mellifica) does store some honey in the combs. Paper wasps are longer, thinner, smoother, and shinier than honey bees and have longer, narrower waists (called petioles) than do bees. Common paper wasps include the yellow paper wasp (P. flavus), whose color is true to the name; the Navajo paper wasp (P. comanchus navajoe), which is deep chocolate brown with the end of the abdomen yellowish; and the Arizona paper wasp (P. arizonensis), which is slightly smaller and more spindle-shaped than the other two and is brownish-red with thin yellow cross bands on the abdomen.
Some of the most impressive insects in the Sonoran Desert are the enormous taran-tula hawks (Pepsis spp.). These 1- to 1 ¾-inch (25– 45-mm) wasps sport brilliant gunmetal, blue-black bodies carried by fiery orange or jet black wings. The desert contains about a dozen species.
Flightless female velvet “ants” (Dasymutilla spp.) are among the most colorful of all organ-isms in the desert. More than three dozen spe-cies live in the Sonoran Desert. They range in size from tiny, ⅛-inch (4-mm) species to huge, nearly 1-inch (25-mm) giants. Most are clothed in red, orange, yellow, or silver coats of hair-like setae (bristles) and look like moving fuzzy cot-ton balls. Particularly large velvet ants include the black and red magnificent velvet ant (D. magnifica) and Satan’s velvet ant (D. satanus), which is black with a yellowish-white furry ab-domen. The glorious velvet ant (D. gloriosa) is a long-haired, totally white velvet ant that looks like a creosotebush seed on legs.
Cicada killers (Sphecius grandis) superfi-cially resemble huge yellowjackets or hornets. Yellow with tan patches, they are 1 to 1 ½ inches (25– 40 mm) long. These powerful fliers have large compound eyes.
Mud daubers (Sceliphron caementarium), sometimes called “dirt daubers” or “mud wasps,” are thin, 1-inch-long (25-mm) black
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